Month 8 Day 10
When Bear set his tray down on her table, Mac jerked to face him, both hands balled and half raised to defend herself. “You’re jumpy,” he observed, and delayed sitting down, to give her a chance to calm down. “Not that I blame you, after hearing what you put up with from E&A.”
Her hands shook as she pulled the corner table away from one wall, moved her chair into the space she’d created, then pulled the table against her ribs. She looked around the mess hall, as if formulating tactics, should the need arise.
“Have I done something to upset you?”
She gave him a fleeting glance, shook her head briefly. “I- It’s just... men.”
E&A ride her hard, a type of ‘courting’ I’ve never understood. But her reaction is worse than normal tonight. “All of us?” he asked softly.
She glanced around again, blushed and lowered her gaze to her meal. “I don’t know.”
She’s really rattled. Not just angry - not much angry, but something else. “May I join you? Or do you prefer I not?” I hope she doesn’t send me away. She needs someone to talk to.
She hesitated, gave a shaky point at the chair opposite her. He sat down slowly, aware she watched his every move. He took several bites, waited for her to continue her meal. I need to stay completely calm, yet let her know that she isn’t alone, that others - myself included, but not just me - will stand with her. “Is this a particularly bad shift on the bridge?”
“No.” She reached for her glass, but her hand shook so much, she changed her mind. “It’s just... It’s just... things.”
He took a bite of sweet potato as he thought about her mysterious ‘things’. “Something happened before your shift?”
“Yes.” She half lifted a bite of meatloaf, dropped it and used both hands to get her drink.
The way she’s acting, I’m surprised she could make the connection from the bridge to security. “Mac.” He touched the edge of her tray with a fingertip as she set the glass down, and her eyes immediately focused on him. “Do you need the rest of the shift off?”
She looked confused, then her eyes snapped indignantly and her back straightened. “No!”
Whatever has her upset hasn’t completely eroded her grit. That’s good. He nodded. “Okay. Just checking. Some women get... worn out after a while, when they’re faced with that kind of... oppression.”
“Worn out?” she repeated softly.
“Well, there’s all sorts of reactions. Ensign Xenokis - do you know her? I should introduce you. - She came to security to let me have lunch, and listened to just half a minute of what was happening on the bridge. She was ready to chew nails, wanted to bash them both in the head.”
He was gratified to see a wan smile. “I should meet her.”
“I think you 2 would hit it off. I’m late because I had to get her settled before I left. She’s good at her job, but still lets her temper take control, from time to time.”
“You guys heard?” She canted her head in confusion, but her hand didn’t shake nearly so much when she took a drink of tea.
“We did,” he answered. “Anything said within a certain radius of communications. Was surprised to hear it being piped to security, but we’re recording it. And listening. When the time comes, there’ll be plenty of proof about what you’ve put up with.”
“Clines,” she stated quietly.
“What about him?”
She ate a couple bites while she gathered her thoughts. “Clines… asked how bad it was. He… did something to the controls before I took over, told me not to change the settings. I was… in my own mind, mostly.” She frowned at her meal. “Barely functioning, really. I didn’t realize what he’d done, didn’t care. By the time I sat down, I’d forgotten he’d done anything.”
“So maybe not all men are monsters.”
A line appeared between her brows as she thought about that while she pushed food around on her plate with her fork. “Did I say they’re monsters?”
“No, but...” Let it go. Her mood is better. They ate in silence for a few moments. “Only half a shift left to get through,” he stated. “Are you going to be as... jumpy after that as you were when I got here?”
“I hope not. I didn’t sleep well, and not sleeping gets me into trouble.”
“I missed you for your workout yesterday.”
She lowered her gaze to her dessert. “I got... distracted by one of my projects during B shift and had to sleep. Try to sleep.”
“So Bugalu said. Just remember, Yellow Dog plans for the 3 of us to spend a day together on Ulsess. We’d better be ready for anything.”
“Very true,” she agreed, and finished her tea. “This was a nice break from... Thank you, Tall.”
“Any time, Shorty,” he returned, stacking items onto his tray. “Just surprised you didn’t think of recording the bridge yourself.”
Her eyes widened. “Me? It wouldn’t have mattered on the tugs, and I got used to just... putting up with it.”
“No one should put up with that stuff.” He wanted to pat her hand in reassurance, but knew that Mac would jerk hers away, and he didn’t want to send her back to work with her nerves again on edge. “See ya.”
“Bear.” It wasn’t what she usually called him, so he paused in getting up. “You’re a good friend. Thank you.”
Not what I was hoping for. Does the good friend ever get the girl? Face it, it’s the best I can do, with this woman. “Whatever you need, Mac.” She finally gave him a real smile. Returning her grin, he got up and left. At least she’s back to normal.